13 February ~ When I was a kid I went to cubs. Our leader was a strange man, whose fondness for tales of the Boer War often struggled to connect with seven-year-old boys. Stranger still – to prepubescent, Shoot-reading minds at least – he liked football but didn’t support a team. “What team do you support?” we’d ask. “I support football,” he’d reply. I spent years wondering what he meant. In fact it only clicked into place recently, around about the time the plight of Leyton FC trickled into my consciousness.

Last month the endlessly repackaged non-League outfit resigned from Division One North of the Ryman League, after being suspended since December 1 for failing to pay the second tranche of their subs. Then last week the Ryman board, concerned that Leyton director Louise Sophocleous’s request to allow the Under-18 team to remain in the youth league wasn’t really a resignation at all, called for an Extraordinary General Meeting on February 20 to put a Special Resolution to all members that Leyton FC be expelled. Both facts would suggest the end of the road for London’s second oldest existing club (formed four years earlier in 1860, only Cray Wanderers are older).

Leyton FC have been here before and theirs is an extraordinary story, even by non-League standards. It takes in four reformations, a High Court battle over a dispute regarding the right to the club’s history and a VAT fraud case that led to the imprisonment the club’s chairman, Louise’s father Costas, in 2008. The Twohundredpercent blog has a history of the club's complicated journey more thorough than space allows here, yet the statement on the club’s website remains telling: “The future of the club is up in the air and only time will tell what the outcome will be – but with no football being played it doesn’t look good.”

The club played at the Leyton Stadium, less than a mile from where I watch their neighbours, Orient, at Leyton’s pre-1937 home Brisbane Road. The Lillywhites’ situation hasn’t been reported much beyond the local press, attuned blogs and the like. On the other hand LOFC and their home have seen unprecedented goodwill, thanks to the news it is fellow East Enders West Ham who will be moving from the Boleyn Ground into the Olympic Stadium, just another mile away again.

All of which may make you think that E10 is some sort of football Mecca – but it's far from that. The Leyton Stadium holds 4,000. Leyton FC’s last match saw 45 people turn up. Brisbane Road holds 9,271 but averages around half of that, while God knows how West Ham plan to fill 60,000 seats. Even without bringing nearby Dagenham & Redbridge into the equation, the supply and demand for football in east London is askew. Orient fans have begun galvanising their voices in opposition to West Ham’s planned move into their catchment area, concerned of the impact on their club. But there’s part of me that wishes I’d made more of a fuss about the problems facing the little team down the road too. I’d always intended to go when time would allow. The ground looked a bit like some swimming baths for one thing.

Despite their geographical familiarity, Leyton Orient and Leyton FC have little to do with one another. The facts would suggest there’s not enough interest in football in the era to support the number of clubs there, even without West Ham expanding and with its oldest team folding. What remains is clubs foraging for scraps within a location not passionate about local football, when they could be fostering supportive links between each other. This may suggest ideas like community schemes and big brother looking after little via friendly matches but the alternative is an emerging football wasteland. It’s this that makes me think of my strange old cub leader and his strange proclamation. Not of the Boer war, but fans supporting football with the passion they do their team. Maybe it's time to be less tribal.

Nothing would benefit football more than clubs being less self-serving, but I can’t think of in many cases more than in E10. If Leyton FC do cease to be, there will be 45 fans disappointed. There will be a much bigger number if any of the area's other clubs follow suit. James McMahon

Comments (7)
Comment by Tolkny 2011-02-13 14:56:32

Great write up. There seems to be a typo in this line. "The facts would suggest there’s not enough interest in football in the ==era== to support the number of clubs there,"

Comment by ZoltanBuchan 2011-02-13 18:57:10

I moved out of E10 a year ago, and it did seem that there was little interest in the area for the local clubs. The 2 major population groups in the area seemed to be Asian families and young professionals in their first City job using it as a dormitory for 2 or 3 years until they could afford to move elsewhere. Whilst there's little that could be done to attract the latter group, the former could surely provide some potential support.

I read in a recent edition of WSC that a large proprtion of Orient's fanbase now lives in Harlow. Is this accurate?

Comment by Paul S 2011-02-13 19:05:32

There is some truth in Orient's fanbase being in Harlow. Barry Hearn has already suggested moving the club out there which would probably be about as successful as Clyde moving to Cumbernauld.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-02-13 23:53:40

I dream of the day football when fans support football over and above their club. I am a Lincoln fan and go to a lot of the games and listen to the premium on line commentary when I can't make games. However I attend a lot of games around the country such as the West London Derby tomorrow and the Arsenal v Stoke thriller next week. I just love watching football. But nothing is more frustrating than listening to phone in shows where people are completely biased to a team and seem to watch football for no reason other than to feel attached to some sort of success or chance to slate someone else. It is all about the team winning more than watching a good game. Then there is finding out who someone supports and having "banter" about it and judging someone on it. Not to mention the inability of grown men to sit in an area next to each other without breaking out into a massive fight because they follow differennt sides. Only in football can the bad guy be the chap who sits in the "wrong end" of a ground and gets a beating and not those doing the beating.

End rant.

Comment by leytonfcladies 2011-02-15 15:28:52

Women's football always seems to get lost in nostalgic football tales, but LEYTON has a good one which hopefully long after the dust has settled on this episode will continue.

Football is still being played at Leyton's Lea Bridge Road (Hare & Hounds) ground, and there's a pretty good community feel about it. There's a boy's team and a women and girls' team, both flying the Leyton FC banner and both playing on Sundays. The ladies currently in the 72-team Greater London Womens League, play in Div 1 (North) and are currently enjoying an 11-game unbeaten run that consists of 10 wins, five clean sheets, close to 50 goals and a place in the AFA Womens Cup Final. The team are also still in with a shout of promotion to the London & SE Regional League provided it wins all its games in hand - a tasty proposition.

When neighbours Leyton Orient abandoned its womens' section in 2005, or thereabouts, Leyton took them in - it's documented. Late last year, Leyton Orient abandoned other elements of 'a pretty good and well respected' community scheme leaving girls with no where locally to go - a few went up the road to Spurs...the rest - who knows?

There were plans at Leyton to bring in a girls section but the recession seems to have overtaken most attempts at forward planning with contingency plans now being burned and used to light the dark uncertain way ahead. Still in terms of football and 'community'; 30-odd women and girls make-up Leyton FC Ladies; most of the women and girls are local; they come from all walks of life, social classes and ethnic backgrounds. The same is true of the boys side.

Football can flourish in and around E10 if it's given a chance, and fewer assumptions made as to why it doesn't seem to be working, but community and interest most certainly isn't the issue.


Comment by ondi 2011-02-16 16:05:36

leytonfcladies - So you're telling me that attendances of as little as 30 people for the former Leyton FC and Waltham Forest FC do not show that there's a lack of community interest?

Non-league football in east London is doomed.

Comment by leytonfcladies 2011-02-21 19:12:24 depends on how you define community? That anyone comes at all is a triumph and a platform to build on - perhaps. There's far too much nostalgia in the game at this level and not enough people looking far enough forward for things to be progressive enough and sustainable. Arousing community interest - regardless of the community make-up - isn't rocket-science. Football at this level doesn't need to be about one man in a flat cap and his half-blind dog watching come rain or shine. Maybe local clubs need to try a bit harder to embrace the 'new-look' local community - if it's about survival surely 31 people is better than 30???

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